Tuesday, January 30, 2018

winter sun / hello from a tiger

This morning the distant sun was shining as brightly as it could through the winter mist: a fiery haze. How can a thing be fiery and still so cold? Ask Dante. The icy sidewalk was so frozen and unyielding that the recycling bin R had put out to be collected had skittered into the street. I had to carry it back and try to balance it on bumpy-ice-varnished sidewalk again.

In the afternoon I took a walk and crossed the Lachine Canal. More bumpy ice. Sun still valiant.

I was heading from the market to Verdun to visit a friend for tea and met this imposing figure who I see whenever I walk down that street.

Which street? Sorry, don't pay attention.

I've never been sure where to place her/him in the kaleidoscope of human experience, but today I was reminded of an installation/dance performance I saw a couple of weeks ago.

The artist was Claudia Chan Tak who had gone on a trip to China to find out more about her Chinese heritage. The installation featured paper lamps, costumes, Chinese words and their French translations, photos, figurines, videos, emails, and more.

Also: a less weather-battered version of the Verdun tiger.

Is it the eyes, the muzzle, the humanoid skull?

Seriously, you don't forget this head.

Merci, Claudia!

Monday, January 29, 2018

sand vests for kids / cultural differences

R, who likes to send me snippets of news from the greater world, especially when it has to do with some contentious German practice, lets me know that there are German schools treating students who have ADHD with sand vests.

Some parents are concerned.

I'm wondering about my own reactions. My acquired Canadian ears wonder if it isn't a bit appalling. Imagine being buckled into a vest weighted with sand! However my genetic Teutonic ears (let's call them) can immediately feel in my body how utterly comforting this would feel to wear.

In the article one teacher says it's like a hug.

Well, an inanimate hug--which sort of goes against the idea of a hug--but I actually get the gist.

I've asked R if he can get me one adult female medium for when I'm having panic attacks about writing and I'm alone at home. 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Ice / Montreal

First thing I do when I get up is open the bedroom curtains to look out at the day. Since I'm very myopic, I don't make out more than white or green on the ground, and the colour of the sky--and in winter, even that's too pale for me to distinguish between morning grey and morning blue.

I pull on my at-home clothes and go to my study where, with my glasses on, I get a clearer view onto the world (the Pointe) before heading downstairs to make tea. 

I lived through the ice storm of '98 that semi-paralyzed southern Quebec and eastern Ontario.
I recall how the ice in the trees crashed down branches, taking power lines with them.

This morning I stepped into the backyard--just able to take ten very careful steps--and heard how the branches of the maple in our backyard and the great cottonwood in the alley creaked and rustled like weighted glass. Not happy. Me, as well as the trees I imagine.

I wasn't sure what to call this post. I was thinking of those thematic categories we learned in high school: man vs society, man vs nature, man vs himself. We are living in times when the havoc we, as humans, have caused in the environment has made a new category. Nature vs City. Weather is no longer an anodyne presence outside our homes. Last night it grew ice teeth. This past summer it howled and crashed trees onto houses. We get snow up to our knees and how much does it cost to cart it away in a city with how many kilometres of road? Montreal isn't even a tropical or coastal city and we've started getting such heavy rainstorms that there's flooding. Yet we continue to live as live and wonder why it keeps getting worse. 

That's me not even managing to walk as far as the back gate this morning.

Friday, January 12, 2018

happy birthday heart valves

A romantic soap stone heart and an organically correct tin heart. I also have an embroidered heart, a heart pillow, cards with hearts. Memories of visits in the hospital--a couple from friends who had deep-seated personal experiences that made them loathe to step into hospital, and yet they made their way to the ICU while I was still bloated with anaesthetic, for which I will always be grateful. I have a particular paranoia about lying unseen and untouched while unconscious, and I don't want R to have to deal with that alone. I told my friends and they came.

Six years ago today my ribs were sawed open--sure, I asked to see the saw--and my heart was stopped and attached to a pump so that two artificial valves could replace my valves that were no longer functional because they were thick with rheumatic scar tissue.

I wasn't afraid of the surgery but I was existentially FREAKED OUT about having my heart stopped. Would I still be the same person? Was my "soul" going to be altered? Rationally, these were all silly questions. I don't believe in souls per se. But... my heart! I must have studied too much medieval literature once upon a time. I had this idea my heart was still somehow the centre of my being. True, it is the engine that keeps us breathing and moving. We don't get far without a heart.

The surgery itself went well. My heart was stopped and started again. The mechanical valves clack like castanets inside the cabinet of my ribs. Since one opens and closes with the ingoing blood, and the other with the outgoing blood, I get two clacks per heartbeat which sounds like my heart beats twice as fast as normal. I've gotten used to the speed. When I hear the magnified sound of a normal heartbeat, for example, it sounds way too slow. Like the person might die any moment. Although a normal heart does have a lovely organic sound--flesh and blood pumping. Mine now sounds like a machine. I've more or less adjusted to the loudness of the clacking. What choice do I have? There are some funny stories of how people have tried to muffle the sound of their valves with padding so they can sleep. I tried a wave machine and rain falling. I count in Spanish along with the beat. I remind myself I have two spanking new valves that will apparently function for 50,000 years! How can a surgeon tell you this with a perfectly straight face? It leaves me with an image of myself dissolved to ashes and dust and my valves still clacking.

I don't know how much a cardiac surgeon's time and labour are worth, the cost of an operating room and a heart-lung pump, and a respirator, and the heaps of gauze and equipment and saline solution and all the other attendant doctors, but I priced the valves at the time of the surgery. Each cost about $7,000 US. I quote US dollars because the valves were manufactured in the US, so that's where the figures are available. I live in Canada where we have socialized medicare, so I did not pay for them. 

Here's an aortic valve. I have one of these as well as a mitral valve. Some people show off their new cars. Me, I've got anatomical hardware complete with warranty and servicing agreement. (Servicing includes dental hygiene, blood thinner, bi-monthly blood tests.)

My quality of life has improved significantly. More than significantly since I would be dead without the new valves. I walk every day, I cycle, I hike, I snowshoe. I've been told I can jog but I don't because I don't want to.

I am fortunate that among the many things that can happen to the human body I had something that could be dealt with. I am fortunate that I live in Canada where I've had access to stellar medical treatment.

I have other cardiac abnormalities, which are also a result of having had rheumatic fever, but medication gets adjusted every now and then, and as far as I'm concerned, I'm fine.

Happy Anniversary valves! The sound of your incessant clacking is the sound of me being alive, so... Keep clacking!

Monday, January 8, 2018

fresh minds / young bodies

Listening to an enthusiastic fourteen-year-old explain the growth of slime in sunlight seems as good a way as any to open the new year.

Skating even though it was minus thirty-seven. Or because it was minus thirty-seven and four boys under the age of sixteen in a single house could quickly turn into mayhem. (Five boys if you include the sixty-year-old masquerading as a tongue-replacing surgeon.) The sky is big, the land flat, because this is Winnipeg.

There was reading together

reading alone

begging to go ice-fishing even though it was so cold there were sun dogs

helping with chores

cleaning jack fruit

Another afternoon of skating

And did we see Star Wars? We did. My first 3-D movie experience.

games of ping pong

making empanadas, pizza, and jam donuts

listening to a BBC podcast

and always more reading

not giving up on the fish under the ice.

black jack too

I questioned the betting (silly me) and was told from all parties playing that pennies weren't worth anything anyhow, and a game was more fun when there was risk.

meanwhile the slime and the closed jar terrarium were still growing

I make no apologies for the energy that blurred the pics

or the COLD

the Prairie sun dogs that stretched high in the sky all afternoon set only when the sun did